Tom made additional attempts to contact his fellow elders, but then he just let it rest. It was really eerie. His e-mails endured without a reply, his phone messages went unheeded. These men had been some of his best friends at the church. He felt like he was staring in a science fiction movie, where some alien invaders had suddenly rendered him totally invisible or his body’s matter replaced with antimatter. Little did he know that Pastor Pete had told the other elders that Tom was, “under church discipline” and they were to strictly follow the Biblical principles of “not even eating with him,” which Pete expanded into having no contact whatsoever.
He didn’t talk about it to Sandy or anyone. Then, just like the fulfillment of a strange premonition, during dinner on Monday night Sandy gave him the dreaded news. She said in a nonchalant way, but it was so deliberately indifferent, that it just didn’t feel right.
“Oh Tom, the Pastor wants you to come to the church tonight at seven.”
“With such sudden notice, what if that doesn’t work for me?”
“I think he said the meeting was mandatory.”
“Tom finished his dinner in silence and made his way, with a spirit of great dread, up the long hill, through town, and out to the church. It was five till seven but Pete’s black Jetta was sitting in the “Pastor’s” private parking spot. Just next to his car was Luke Nelson’s red Volvo. Luke was the acting chair of the board of elders. The awful dismay intensified. The last time he felt this way was when the middle school principal left a message with his teacher that he needed to report to the office. It was no coincidence that it was on the day that he had gotten into his first fist-fight. It was on the bus on the way to school after a kid was making fun of the fact his dad had just left them. But that was thirty years earlier.
Tom walked into the pastor’s office quietly. Pete and Luke were in deep conversation. Pete was sitting on the front of his desk, facing the open door but looking down at Luke, sitting in a chair with his back to the door. Neither saw Tom come in. Pete was in mid-sentence, “You learn as a pastor that you nip these things in the bud or it becomes like a cancer that seriously compromises what God is trying to do.” Tom could see the back of Luke’s head nodding in the affirmative.
Pete didn’t realize that during the whole commute to the church, Tom was contemplating dong a 180 and just not showing up. The thing that prevented him from doing so was the fear that his no-show would be used against him. If he showed, even though he didn’t like this “mandate,” he at least could state his case. But Tom was a shy man. He didn’t like confrontations at all and lost sleep over each one. He was always overridden with guilt. But he too was a man of logic and it was his logic that had driven him to raise concerns while no elder had.
“So what’s going on Pete? I have a feeling that I’m getting canned tonight.”
“Tom, you know we love you very much.” Tom didn't flinch but felt like the bull being told how much he is loved . . . by the matador.
“The elders and I met last week and we discussed your situation. We all feel that we are on the verge of God doing a great work here and it seems that you’re not on the same page with us. I had a bad feeling about this. It was like we have been given this commission by God, yet there is something that is holding us back. God then spoke to me very clearly through this passage in Titus 3:10 and 11:"
Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.
Tom just sat in silence. He felt so angry, yet he knew that if he showed his anger, it would only confirm what Pete was saying. Pete, on the other hand, was a master of his own emotions. Even as he read this bizarre (bizarre as it related to this situation) and condemning passage, he did it in a way that he seemed like he was Tom’s best friend . . . and he was doing all of this to serve Tom. Luke, on the other hand, wore his un-comfortableness on his shirt sleeves, not even making eye contact with Tom the entire evening.
“How on earth do you put me in that classification as having sinned against this church, being warned and not heeding? I've done nothing against you or your church! I was only raising concerns as my position of being a responsible elder.”
Pete flashes his big, warm smile again, “Tom, you know Pastor Dr. Glen Brothers, who has the huge church in Minneapolis. He has written a fantastic book called, “Shadowlands.” In that book he describes people in the life of the church that seem so much like gentle sheep. They are kind, sweet and well liked. Yet, they are placed within the church by Satan as gravel in the gears of doing God’s will.”
“Are you suggesting . . .” (Pete cuts him off).
“Just listen to me. Brothers says that these people are the greatest hindrances to God doing great works through our churches. He also points out that these people, who live in the shadows, are usually out of touch with their impact or how they are being used as an instrument of Satan. Many of them, such as yourself, feel that they have good intentions. But Brothers makes it clear that these shadow-land people must be dealt with firmly. There is great hope that you can become aware of these issues in your life, get some help, be trained and become a key player again.”
Tom knew by this point that the battle was over. He looked at Luke for support . . . but Luke had already gone over to the dark side, the Pete side. Tom felt like he was completely alone, bivouacked on the far side of the moon. All was lost. It seemed like he was in a movie, but a movie where he didn't know or even understand the script. It was a horror movie, in a foreign language.
Still with his friendly smile and even reaching over and putting his hand on Tom’s shoulder, Pete continued. “Tom, we all love you and I know that you feel angry about these things, but the power of Christ can change us. I know that Sandy is also very concerned about you and loves you very much. She knows that anger had been consuming you. “
Pete paused for a moment. He continued smiling. However, in the deep, dark places of Pete’s soul, the window of silence was supposed to be the place where Tom’s rage rushes to the surface, just like Jeremy’s did after the intentional elbow to the nose, and Tom would start screaming. The screaming, in contrast to Pete’s soft, “loving” demeanor, would confirm Tom’s guilt, at least in Luke’s eyes. But Tom didn't take the bait. Not that he was so wise, but because he was too bewildered to talk.
Pete pushed ahead. “The elders and I have talked. We would like to remove you from church ministry for a season. This means you stepping down from your role as elder. Also, it appears that God is not blessing your cell group as you told me that several couples are pulling out. Therefore we are going to combine your cell with Luke’s and your couples will attend his. You are welcome to attend but realizing you will have no leadership role. The last part is that we want you to be discipled by Luke. During my sessions with him, I will give Luke guidance. But, like Dr. Brothers suggested, we want you to work through a program to help you get in touch with your dark side. Only when you know your sin, can you repent.”
Tom’s spiritual life, like the bull under the influence of the Matador’s saber, fell to its knees, then face down on the cold dirt of the earth . . . the fire went completely out. Tom’s soul was dead. He felt a haunting separation from his friends, his church and his wife. Oddly, the only glimmer of comfort he found, like one blade of green grass in the middle of the Sahara, was a peace directly from God Himself.